August 11, 2004

Half shark alligator half man


So, after my six-hour mega-derrive through the Kent countryside yesterday with the world's greatest wordengineer-becoming-naturalist, in which I got us lost in the beguilingly bucolic labyrinths of suburbia (heronbone: 'where are all the shops?'), we returned to k-p HQ and got down to the serious business of looking through old comics.

Like Robin Undercurrent and I, Luke was entranced by the 'Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe' series, which presented loving-to-the-point-of-delirial-joy Top Trumps-style guides to Marvel characters, including, gratifyingly the most obscure ones. We concluded that, let's face it, being assigned the task of discovering , for instance, that Colossus 'can survive extremes of temperature from 70 degrees Farenheit above absolute zero (-390 F) to approximately 9,000 F (the boiling point of normal osmium)' must have been just about the best job ever. (Imagine the meetings: enraged red-faced Marvel writer: 'That's ridiculous! It should be 10,000 F at least!') Imagine the research: the most forbiddingly abstruse scientific text could be a source of intense libidinization.

What's delightful about these texts is their complete lack of PoMo knowing smirkiness and/ or - for the two are related - 'mature' post-Frank Miller/ Alan Moore psycho-portentathonic angst. Their tone is surely exactly what Nietzsche meant when he said that the ideal state for humans would be to attain 'the seriousness of a child at play'. For example:

'The Corruptor has the power to subvert the will of virtually any living being by mere touch. The sweat glands of the Corruptor's skin release a highly potent psychoactive chemical that upon contact with another person's skin triggers a metabolic change that overrides the inhibition center of the brain.'

Part of the reason why I love Marvel so much is that it inculcated a feeling for language in me at a young age. While the children's books I was required to read were Relevant to Kids - i.e. boringly slaved to the reality principle (about pets and shopping precincts) - and written in an appropriately sensible, 'accessible' prose, Marvel's language had the euphorically jargonized intensity necessary to bring unlife to its super-consistent hyperfictional cosmos.

This was a deliberate policy of Stan Lee, who, contrary to contemporary wisdom, maintained that kids would not be perturbed by words they didn't know if the story was strong enough and the context was clear. (Interestingly, in his 1957 pre-Understanding Media survey of the US mediascape, The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan had already picked up on this aspect of Lee (this was obviously in the pre-Spider-man days before Marvel really took off), quoting approvingly Lee's injunction that you should never talk down to readers.') Beyond this, Lee must have realised that kids actually love this kind of quasi-technical neologistic lyrical jargon.

Check this for instance, on
The Contemplator

'By such universal attunement he can probe the many phenomena that comprise reality and learn whatever he wishes. By universal attunement, he has learned the existence of alternate universes, and he can use his cerebral powers to either transport himself to one, or to partially phase into another universe, making himself intangible and partially invisible.'

Universal attunement! Love it!

It's no accident that the Ccru's Pandemonium matrix is formally similar to the Marvel Index - it's the pulp theory hybrid innit!

In any case, you will have noticed from the hyperlinks that for Luke's delectation and I assume many others' too, that there is a Marvel Directory online.

The asignifying joy of the surface of language recalls Luke's comparison of Reza with Dr Octagon's sidekick Sir Menelik.

Rap has always been fascinated with Marvel's taxonomy of powers and affects, and with its sense-melting compound-word concept production, as Kodwo identified in his Spinozist analysis of the sonic fictional black sf continuum in More Brilliant:

'Dr Octagon, Sir Menelik the Emperor General, all accent unexpected words and stress syllables so that WordObjects disarticulate themselves. Flow falls apart in a drastic dysphasia when the brain's unable to coordinate syntax. By arresting HipHop's verbose flowmotion, syntax seizes up then lurches forward in a robotic cadence that induces an arhythmic irritation. Mindstresser: the order of things breaks up. Sense starts zigzagging like the lightning logo bolting across Captain Marvel's costume.' (040-041)

This brings in another link: toys. Robin and I once spent an afternoon of awed delight in Leamington Woolworths reading the captions on cyber-toys. Their invocation of 'ultra-phasic photonic repulsors' and the like bore more than a superficial resemblance to the impersonal libidinotechxt channeled by Nick Land. So, Nick and Reza, if you ever feel like a career change....

Since I mentioned Kodwo, can I make the now customary sure-to-fall-on-stony-ground entreaty for him to start a blog? I hold out as little hope for this as I do for the return of Ian 'grave misgivings about blogs' Penman. But the blogosphere is much the poorer for their skulking around in archaic pre-k(private)space. (I'm genuinely bemused as to how anyone who writes would not want a blog: how uncyberpunk is that!)

ps if Kodwo's out there lurking, can he email me, I want to ask him something and his address went down with the hard drive?

Posted by mark at August 11, 2004 10:37 AM | TrackBack

Great post! This is one of the best examples of what you mean by 'intensification' I've seen on k-punk, now when you use the word I will think of Stan Lee and understand.

Posted by: Tom at August 11, 2004 11:28 AM

your link didn't work for me.

it is really good though

Posted by: luke.. at August 11, 2004 11:41 AM

Luke: that link's the same as the one that's already there... weird...

Tom, thanks as ever...

yeh, think Tim's comments in particular have been helpful in bring into focus the importance of escaping 'vernacular Kantianism' --- Kant describes very well that aspect of the Human OS which ostensibly opposes Duty to Pleasure --- I say ostensibly coz this is a classic example of what D and G call a double pincer, i.e. an 'opposition' whose pair terms are actually linked and mutually reinforcing (God is a lobster) --- i mean you don't have to read Lacan or Zizek (even though they are very good at demonstrating this) to know that Guilt and Pleasure reinforce one another, i.e. saying something is wrong can make it all the more enticing...
Asking 'will this increase my joyful encounters' rather than 'is this right?' and or 'will this make me feel good'? offers a way beyond this evil crab grip lol

Posted by: mark at August 11, 2004 12:12 PM

Hey Mark ... this is great; just curious: have you read books published by Eraserhead press, esp. Carlton Mellick's novels? guess, you will enjoy his books esp. the one he has written with Kadrey; some of his stuff are available in pdf format at

Posted by: Reza at August 11, 2004 01:04 PM

No, Reza -- can you say a bit more?

Reza, I was wondering abt what you think abt the abstract similarity between something like the Marvel Universe and the Persian mythos?

Posted by: mark at August 11, 2004 01:11 PM

I never read it (and I know you didn't either since you weren't a DC guy either), but someone sent me this Green Lantern Corps link that you might like as it's along the same lines as the Handbook.

The stats seem to be all taken from what was in the comics so it's mostly these unkowns everywhere rather than the handbook Marvel put out themselves, but some of this stuff seems so out of control and complex that I wish I knew what it was all about.

And anywhere that this guy rates a page is alright with me:

Did any of you guys have that huge poster that was supposed to have all the Marvel characters in one drawing?

Posted by: jd at August 11, 2004 03:04 PM

If you haven't already, i HEARTILY recommend getting a pack of Marvel Heroes Top Trumps (volumes one OR two). In-pub play generates EXACTLY the sort of red-faced arguments you mention. "The ever-loving blue eyed thing beaten by the Man Menace MAGNETO in pusillanimy? NEVER!"

(and so on)

Posted by: MJ Hibbett at August 11, 2004 03:37 PM

Carlton Mellickís books: lots of zombies + motoric aphasia + hardcore cyberpunk + comic elements + Satan + videogame narration-style + ... :)

I was thinking about the same connections (not only to Persian mythologies but also the ancient Mesopotamian culture); however, canít organize them right now

it wd be great to write something about the connections, a collective post perhaps: you and Robin can work on the Marvel part and I can go for Persian / Mesopotamian mythologies.

Posted by: Reza at August 11, 2004 04:31 PM

I know Kodwo Eshun is really rated as a writer by both S.Reynolds and K-Punk (not much higher accolade than that in my book) but didn't he write some pretty damaging things about many of the best blogs, namely Woebot in the Wire magazine?

To me the things he wrote sounded like such a publishing industry knee jerk reaction to the blogs (that I suspect the 'professionals' deep down view as a kind of cultural crit Napster). It really did come accross to me that he has disdain for the format.

Posted by: Karl Kraft at August 12, 2004 02:00 AM

Nice one. Would like to hear about Luka and K-Punk, the behemoths of blogging, striding through the black light district and breathing life into unknown hybrids...

On a comics tip -- thinking of getting into the invisibles.

Posted by: paul "Essex boy" meme at August 12, 2004 11:40 AM


have youse seen this doc abt Lacan, made in 1974, that the ICA is showing? if so is it any good? the director has since done some interesting things (inc 'Sade').

k thx bye

Posted by: HKM at August 12, 2004 12:03 PM

MJ ---- think I had a set of those Top Trumps back in the day, obv need to re-acquire so I can play against the Lukemeister lol

Reza, Mellick's books sound amazing.. collaborative post I think a brilliant idea on lots of levels ---- but maybe _we_ should do Persian mythos and _you_ shd do Marvel lol

Karl I think your memory of that Kodwo piece is somewhat distorted (or at least VERY different from my interpretation). He was typically enthusiastic about the blog form in general (making his lack of one an even sadder irony), and very positive about k-p, woebot and heronbone in particular. He was especially, and I hardly need add with reason, effusive about Sir Lord Luke. Def worth repeating here:

'On first reading heronbone, you might think its author Luka is an East London uber-Garage head deeply tuned to the East London pirate scene - which he is. But the real genius of heronbone is the way that Luka factors lyrical sensitivity into a series of diaristic meditations on poetry, injunctions and greatness, the despair of work, the value of introspection, the aesthetics of flow, quotations, odes to the flora and fauna of Bow, Hackney and Stratford, and miniature prose poems of three or four not-quite homonyms and synonyms.
Equally at home with the oeuvre of Dizzee Rascal and Fernando Pessosa, heronbone is deeply original. Music magazines cannot prepare you for the surprise of a blog that locates itself between W G Sebald, Wiley from Roll Deep and Iain Sinclair. From word to phrase, clause to lyric, sentence to paragraph, heronbone is sheer greatness: a vivid justification of the blog at its best and its brightest.'
Blimey, if _that's_ disdain, what wd you call praise lol?

vaguely aware of the Lacan doc (Lacan enthusiasm is a fairly new thing for me after finally realising that the lackonauts and signocrats had systematically turned him into a strata priest, hate the ICA, but will check it out..

Posted by: mark at August 12, 2004 10:25 PM

Mr P Meme, you gotta read the invisibles! It's just great (sigils, pre-millenium tension, trannies, magick, sex, conspiracy, drugs, great writing, great art).

I once asked Grant Morrison to marry me at a comic convention.

Ok, that's not a good thing. but we had the same boots.

But if you liked doom patrol, you'll love the invisibles...and you must have read preacher too.

Posted by: infinite thought at August 13, 2004 12:16 AM

I mean, you must read preacher too, if you haven't already.

Posted by: infinite thought at August 13, 2004 12:19 AM

Comix-wise: Morrison (Doom Patrol, Invisibles) is alrite. As has been noted b4, a lot of his concerns (sourcery, fiction-becoming-fact, science, infection, the inhuman) overlap with K-punk obsessions. He seems to have ended up recycling his ideas (c.f. The Filth). Which is a shame. Also recommend Flex Mentallo (which is a homage to the superhero comix of 30s and 60s) and Animal Man (the final Morrison issue of which is a lovely meditation on writing, death and communication).

The Hex Corporation issue of "Marvel Boy" (which models corporate capitalism as a planetary wide alien infection) covers similar ground to recent posts on Anti-Capitalism.

Preacher: Not a fan. I mean, I like a non-stop stream of sodomy and vomit as much as the next guy but after 5 years it kinda wears thin.

Japanese manga / anime does this stuff really well also. Not familar enough with it tho...

Posted by: Daniel Byron at August 13, 2004 02:45 AM

yer, s'pose preacher lacks some of the mad invention of the invisibles universe, but still, s'better than the newspaper.

flex mentallo was good if brief (4 parts?). some of the other Morrison one-shots were great (Kill yr Boyfriend esp.).

The nineties seemed to produce a whole panoply of strangely reflective superhero stories, which pitted old characters against new 'real' worlds (Astro City e.g.). Dunno if they were really successful tho - lacking some of the pure creation that k-p seems to value in Marvel. Am I wrong to prefer DC? (If only cos of some of the Vertigo stuff?)...I guess I came to these things late....

Posted by: infinite thought at August 13, 2004 06:01 AM

Ah sorry, I only got to read the comments Kodwo made about Woebot (quoted on his page) so must have gotten a distorted view of his stance which is clearly very different. *Must get facts straight before opening mouth in future. After reading that I would like to see a K E blog too.

Posted by: Karl Kraft at August 13, 2004 11:06 AM